Oranges and Lemons

“Oranges and Lemons” dates back to the 18th century England. Like The Muffin Man and other old nursery rhymes, traditional songs were passed on not only oral but also as part of a singing game.

“Oranges and Lemons” lyrics were first published around 1744 in Tommy Thumb’s “Pretty Song Book” collection.

Although the exact origins of it is still uncertain, back in time, in the 17th century a similar singing game existed also named as Oranges and Lemon. References about this square dance were found in the 3rd edition (1665) of a dancing manual published by John Playford in the 1660’s, “The English Dancing Master”. However there isn’t much proved connection of the game with the “Oranges and Lemons” nursery rhyme.

The church names mentioned in the nursery rhyme are also a subject of many discussions as their name varies throughout version. However the song’s tune actually has its origin in the sound of church bells and more than that, today, the sound of the bells at St. Clement Danes in City of Westminster, London, imitates the tune of Oranges and Lemons. Most commonly the name of the churches in this rhyme are related to some churches around London although similar songs can be found in different regions in England, naming various churches.

“Oranges and Lemons” as a game

“Oranges and lemons” is also a very popular singing game, having similar rules with “London Bridge is falling down”.

How to play:

At the beginning 2 kids, face to face are joining their hands, forming an arch. One of them will represent The Oranges and one of them The Lemons. This must be agreed from the beginning

The rest of them one by one, will form a line, by catching the dress of the kid that stays in front of them. All of them will start to run through the arch (under the hand of the first 2 players) singing the lyrics of Oranges and Lemons.

When the word “head” is pronounced, the arch will drop the arms down and the kid who’ll be in the arch will be catched. They will ask him very quietly: Oranges or Lemons? The answer must be also said very quietly so that the other players cannot hear it. He or she will then have to sit in the back of the representative that he chose by answering, holding him around his waist.

The game continues until each child is captured and now there are two teams formed. The kids from each team must hold each other’s middle strongly, forming a tug. Between the teams there is a line singed in the middle. The two kids, now each carrying his team in the back will start the oranges and lemons war: they have to pull strongly until one of them will succeed to cross the line that divides them, moving forward the entire team with them.

“Oranges and Lemons” Lyrics

Modern version

Oranges and lemons,

Say the bells of St. Clement’s.

You owe me five farthings,
Say the bells of St. Martin’s.

When will you pay me?
Say the bells of Old Bailey.

When I grow rich,
Say the bells of Shoreditch.

When will that be?
Say the bells of Stepney.

I do not know,
Says the great bell of Bow.

Here comes a candle to light you to bed,
And here comes a chopper to chop off your head!

“Oranges and Lemons” Original lyrics

Two Sticks and Apple,
Ring ye Bells at Whitechapple,
Old Father Bald Pate,
Ring ye Bells Aldgate,
Maids in White Aprons,
Ring ye Bells a St. Catherines,
Oranges and Lemmons,
Ring ye bells at St. Clemens,
When will you pay me,
Ring ye Bells at ye Old Bailey,
When I am Rich,
Ring ye Bells at Fleetditch,
When will that be,
Ring ye Bells at Stepney,
When I am Old,
Ring ye Bells at Pauls

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